The Holy Eucharist commonly referred to as The Mass
At the time of the Reformation (16th Century), the authors of the Book of Common Prayer, like the Reformers Luther and Calvin, were concerned to restore the weekly reception of Holy Communion to the Church. They all realized that this had been the practice of the Early Church, but in the Middle Ages most lay people received Communion only on Easter. They attended Mass weekly, or even daily, but only the priest received communion, except at Easter. The full Sunday service of The Book of Common Prayer was Morning Prayer, Litany, and Holy Communion.
The Catholic revival associated with the Oxford Movement in the 19th Century restored the weekly celebration of the Eucharist as normative in Anglicanism, but this frequently took the form of an “early Communion service” without music or preaching, attended by “the devout”, early risers, and those determined to avoid music, preaching or both. The usual worship experience of Episcopalians was either choral Morning Prayer or, in Anglo Catholic parishes, High Mass, at which the majority of the congregation did not communicate. The Liturgical Movement in the middle of 20th Century made the Family Eucharist a fixture in the majority of Episcopal congregations.
Most Episcopalians attend a Sunday celebration of the Eucharist with both music and preaching, and with the general communion of the entire congregation. It is held weekly as “the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 13) Families are urged to attend together, and participation in the service is frequently an integral part of the parish Christian education program for both children and adults.
At St. Jude we believe that the “Table” is God’s Table and not the Episcopalian’s Table and that all of God’s children are invited to come forward for communion or a blessing.
This service of both Word and Sacrament, and is intended to be a comprehensive service of Sunday worship. The Holy Eucharist, the Prayer Book says, “is the sacrament commanded by Christ for the continual remembrance of his life, death, and resurrection, until his coming again.” It is also the service in which we hear the word of God proclaimed in the Gospel, in the other readings from Scripture, and in the sermon. We read from the Old Testament, the Epistles, and the Gospels. We recite or sing a psalm, and listen to a sermon. Then we pray for the Church and the world, and ask God’s forgiveness for our sins.
Finally, we greet one another in the peace of Christ and move to the sacramental service of the Holy Communion.
In some periods, such as the Middle Ages, the Church has emphasized the Sacramental presence of Christ and largely ignored the proclamation the Word. In others, such as the 17th and 18th centuries, the pendulum swung in the other direction, the Word and the sermon were emphasized and the Sacraments celebrated only occasionally.
Today we attempt to strike a balance and follow the example of the earliest Christian centuries and of the great Reformers, as we obey Christ’s command, “Do this for the remembrance of me.”
Adapted from Leonel L. Mitchell’s work. He is Professor Emeritus of Liturgics at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books including, Praying Shapes Believing: A Theological Commentary on the Book of Common Prayer and The Way We Pray.